I’m back from a long safari into social networking – in which I joined Facebook and LinkedIn – and to my surprise, a fun time was had by all. Yes, there’s great temptation to do friendships solely online; yes, my time to correspond is limited so I had to choose between networking and blogging. But a friend of mine captured the essence of the best use of Facebook-like sites like this: “Facebook is like the five minutes between classes where you catch up with everyone.” Working at home and being somewhat isolated by parenting two young children has made me miss those five minutes between classes, and Facebook makes it really easy. In minutes I was connected with friends from middle school, high school, college, and grad school – all of which were good friends in their time but none of which I had managed to stay in touch with. So that’s how I’d like to use Facebook – as those five minutes between classes, catching up with friends I don’t cross paths with much. But whom I still care about.

LinkedIn is all business – seems like a good networking site for people whose work requires them to look for clients or to look for new job possibilities on a continual basis. So far mine is the former and not the latter, and I need to learn more about it. Even got a book.

So yes, my knee-jerk reaction against social networking finally hit me in the face. I shouldn’t knock what I haven’t tried. More than that, this seems to be a case where technology actually benefits true community – Facebook connected me back to real friendships that physical distance prevented me from maintaining. It did for me what my introverted personality could not – it made it very easy for me to keep in touch with people I actually would have liked to keep in touch with but didn’t have the natural initiative. For those who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, I am not a maven – I am not the center of the crowd, the one everyone knows, the one who draws people together. I am one of those who might be invited to the maven’s New Year’s Eve party, tentatively arrives, and then scuttles into the corner to talk to one or two people intimately the whole night. But there’s no maven who is connected to every different place I’ve lived, no institution that unites all of us anymore. But now facebook is my electronic maven, through which I can catch up on a surface level as needed. It’s still up to me to initiate the deeper conversation, but that’s something I’ve never had trouble with in the first place. I can see how LinkedIn could be the professional parallel as well.

So far, in this pursuit of wholeness in this world of technology, these tools definitely hold more benefit than cost. So long as I don’t use possible billable hours on Facebook – which is a severe temptation.